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Deal speaks at banquet

Gov. Nathan Deal says his drug court programs will save taxpayers $85 million this year, and that his goal of making Georgia the number one place to do business is being achieved.

Deal delivered the keynote address during the 9th District Congressional Banquet heldFriday nightat the Lakeview Center in Dawsonville.

The event was sold out, according to Andrew Turnage, chair of the district GOP. Approximately 250 tickets were sold with an overflow crowd being seated on the second floor balcony at the center.

The governor focused part of his address on ways the state can do more with less.

"In these tough economic times, we have to figure out the best way to get the most out of the money we have," he said. (We're) not going to say the only thing we can do is to find new taxes or new revenue; let's prioritize and figure out how we can spend the money we've got to get the best results."

Deal highlighted a cost savings of $85 million this year by not having to build two new jails.

"An adult bed costs (taxpayers) $18,000 per year . . . a bed for a juvenile is $90,000," he said.

Instead, Deal put $12 million into the state's budget for accountability courts -- now known as Drug and DUI Courts -- and a new mental health program, called HELP court, which launched in February in Dawson County. He noted the state spends $1 billion to $1.5 billion annually to cover jail costs.

To help reduce the state's inmate population, Deal put another $1.6 million into the state budget for a new reading mentor program.

"Children must be able to read (at grade level) by the third grade or they are more likely to be incarcerated," he said.

The goal of the program is to improve the percentage of children reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

He noted that HOPE grant money may also be used at the state's technical colleges, including Lanier Tech in Dawson County. The grade point average (GPA) to qualify for HOPE money has been rolled back to 2.0.

Ethics reform, passed during the most recent legislative session, has resulted in a 34 percent decrease in spending by lobbyists, according to Deal.

Speaking about business in the state, Deal said one of his goals, upon taking office in January 2011, was to make Georgia the number one place to do business.

"Georgia is number three, and we were ranked number one by CNBC on jobs," he told the packed house.

Deal pointed to Caterpillar Inc., whichis relocating production of small excavators and backhoes from Japan to Athens, Ga., bringing at least 1,400 jobs. The plant will mean the largest creation of jobs in Georgia since Kia Motors moved to West Point, Ga., in 2009.

Baxter Pharmaceutical is making a $1 billion capital investment in a new manufacturing plant on Atlanta's eastside in Stanton, Ga., bringing more than 1,800 jobs.

"Although we didn't agree with Gov. Deal on every point, he is true to his goal to make Georgia the best state to do business," said Dawson County residents Barbara and Dale Smart.

The couple also noted they were impressed with the resolve expressed by Congressmen Paul Broun and Jack Kingston, who have announced plans to run for for the post being vacated by U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Chambliss announced in January he will not seek a third term.

After the formal event, Gov. Deal sat down with the News & Advertiser to discuss healthcare and reservoirs. (See sidebar).